Country Victoria is full of surprises when it comes to doing things with care, skill and romantic old-fashioned homeliness
Fancy spending a weekend knee-deep in wood shavings and buttery shards of puff pastry? Then hop to the Lost Trades fair for artisans held annually in Central Victoria’s Kyneton every March.
The event fills every hotel, motel and Airbnb in the pretty town, including the stylish Flop House listings and the classic Kyneton Old Rectory B&B. Artisan makers and restorers line Piper St shops year-round if you miss the fair. My first stop was the Piper St Food Co, where a traditional pork pie workshop was under way. It’s a lovely concept: guests spend the morning making a wooden pie-making dolly and rolling pin with master craftsman Glen Rundell and the afternoon using their handmade tools to make pork pies with Damian Sandercock, chef/ owner of Piper St Food Co.
The family food business is devoted to traditional methods and picnic-friendly food (which you could eat at nearby Hanging Rock of the famous book and film).
Next door is Animus Distillery, offering a range of small-batch gins. Rocking up to enjoy Damian’s pizzas at Animus on Friday nights is the latest thing for locals.
I tried to resist eating too much of Damian’s duck terrine before heading to Source Dining, a Good Food Guide one-hatted restaurant, where I took my time over a generous fivecourse degustation lunch. It started with beetroot and licorice root-cured kingfish and finished with a dessert even prettier than the town, a masterfully arranged concoction of white chocolate mousse, pistachio sponge, mandarin, curd and black sesame ice-cream.
Three highlights of my stroll afterwards were Cavaletti atelier with its Japaneseinspired clothing in beautiful textiles; Stockroom, a large but tightly curated space specialising in contemporary art, clothing and ceramics; and Rundell & Rundell, owned by aforementioned woodworker and Lost Trades Fair founder Glen, and filled with timber, leather and linen homewares.
My day of exploration was panning out beautifully. Leaving central Melbourne at 9am, I had driven for an hour to reach my first destination, Mt Towrong family vineyard in the Macedon Ranges, where maker George Cremasco took me through his Italian-style whites and reds. George planted the vineyard 21 years ago, but opened the cellar door only two years ago. A former workshop, it’s a funky precast concrete space with retro furniture. George was excited about his first gin, under new label Mountain Distilling, with pine needle, pepperberry, lemon myrtle and orange peel botanicals. And I was excited by the soft biscotti his son Giacomi brought me with my coffee chaser. Mount Towrong is one of many cellar doors opening next weekend for the Macedon Ranges wine and food festival.
My third and final stop of the day was Hepburn Springs, 40km from Kyneton. I didn’t have time to immerse myself at the mineral baths or indulge in any of the spa treatments the town is famous for, but I did stay in a luxurious shipping container.
Clifftop at Hepburn opened its five-star villas three years ago and their popularity inspired the addition of these funky studios. My plushly made king bed had beautiful hillside views and the architect-designed space was full of treats and quirks, including chromatherapy shower lighting (choose your shades for a multi-tinted experience), top-ofthe-line TV and sound system, designer wood heater and glass flooring above a manmade stream. Plenty of wow factor.
Dinner was mussels mariniere and grilled octopus in the cosy ambience of The Surly Goat near the town’s historic spring baths.
At nearby Daylesford next morning, I walked Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, which has great views of the town and district, especially from Pioneers Lookout Tower. The 19th century gardens contain notable specimens and a charming cafe. Posh main street Daylesford is worth a lap for homewares, casual luxe fashion and Italianinspired eateries. Another spa town, it’s a mecca for cashed-up Melburnians.
Castlemaine, 40km north, is a more typical Australian country town, with its gold rush history, wide main street and parallel railway tracks with trains tootling through. After lunch on a sunny rooftop deck at Togs Cafe, I ran into two of the town’s acclaimed authors, Tasmanian-born Carmel Bird, who was lugging a double bass to a classical concert, and Cate Kennedy, who was off to host a session with journalist Gabrielle Chan at the New Northern Art Hotel. Around another corner, the Democracy for Dinner group was running a forum on themes similar to those covered in Chan’s book Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up, which details why rural voters are deserting major parties for independents.
I finished my weekend as I started it, in the company of passionate artisans. The Mill Castlemaine is a former woollen mill recently reborn as a creative hub. Its Austrian coffee house, Das Kaffeehaus, was packed, the vintage bazaar was epic and the Oakwood smallgoods by German Ralf Finke were as good as you’d expect from a fleischmeister who has honed his craft over four decades.